Indiscipline and disruptions in Parliament are much talked about issues. Not only are disruptions a waste of Parliament's valuable time, these significantly taint the image of this esteemed institution. Commotion in Rajya Sabha over the introduction of Women's Reservation Bill and the subsequent suspension of 7 MPs has brought this issue back to the forefront. We thought it might be useful to research and highlight instances in the past when the House had had to deal with similar situations. According to the Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette of the Rajya Sabha, "The House has the right to punish its members for their misconduct whether in the House or outside it. In cases of misconduct or contempt committed by its members, the House can impose a punishment in the form of admonition, reprimand, withdrawal from the House, suspension from the service of the House, imprisonment and expulsion from the House." Mild offences are punished by admonition or reprimand (reprimand being the more serious of the two). Withdrawal from the House is demanded in the case of gross misconduct. 'Persistent and wilful obstructions' lead the Chairman to name and subsequently move a motion for suspension of the member. A member can be suspended, at the maximum, for the remainder of the session only. In an extreme case of misconduct, the House may expel a member from the House. According to a comment in the above rule book, "The purpose of expulsion is not so much disciplinary as remedial, not so much to punish members as to rid the House of persons who are unfit for membership." There have been several instances in the past when the Parliament has exercised its right to punish members. We pulled together a few instances: Rajya Sabha
|Unruly behaviour – Some instances
|Shri Godey Murahari was suspended for the remainder of the session on 3 Septemebr 1962. He was removed by the Marshal of the House
|Shri Raj Narain and Shri Godey Murahari were suspended for one week by two separate motions moved on 25 July 1966, by the Leader of the House (Shri M.C. Chagla) and adopted by the House. After they refused to withdraw, they were removed by the Marshal of the House. Next day, the Chairman expressed his distress and leaders of parties expressed their regret at the incident
|The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs (Shri Om Mehta) moved a motion on 12 August 1971, for the suspension of Shri Raj Narain for the remainder of the session. The motion was adopted. Shri Raj Narain, on refusing to withdraw, was removed by the Marshal of the House
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette
|Expulsion – All instances (three in total)
|Shri Subramanian Swamy was expelled on 15 November 1976 on the basis of the Report of the Committee appointed to investigate his conduct and activities. The Committee found his conduct derogatory to the dignity of the House and its members and inconsistent with the standards which the House expects from its members
|Dr. Chhattrapal Singh Lodha was expelled on 23 December 2005, for his conduct being derogatory to the dignity of the House and inconsistent with the Code of Conduct, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation contained in the Seventh Report of the Committee on Ethics
|Dr. Swami Sakshi Ji Maharaj was expelled on 21 March 2006, for his gross misconduct which brought the House and its members into disrepute and contravened the Code of Conduct for members of Rajya Sabha, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation of the Committee on Ethics contained in its Eighth Report
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette
|Unruly behaviour – Some instances
|Commotion in the House over the Thakkar Commission report (Report of Justice Thakkar Commission of Inquiry on the Assassination of the Late Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi; revelations published in Indian Express before report tabled in Parliament) led to 63 MPs being suspended for a week. An opposition member belonging to the Janata Group (Syed Shahabuddin) who had not been suspended, submitted that he also be treated as suspended and walked out of the House. Three other members (GM Banatwalla, MS Gill and Shaminder Singh) also walked out in protest.
|Demand for resignation of Govt. because of the adverse remarks made against it by the CAG in his report on Defence Services for the year 1988-89 saw commotion in the House. Satyagopal Misra dislodged microphone placed before the Chair and threw it in the pit of the House. (Sheila Dikshit was the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs). No member was suspended.
Source: Subhash Kashyap, Parliamentary Procedure (Second Edition)
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.